NEW YORK — A drama of unthinkable loss in which Audra McDonald gives a performance that just might earn her a seventh Tony Award. A sprightly musical reimagining of “Romeo and Juliet" in which the tragic heroine decides to dispense with the tragedy altogether.
A riveting revival of a drama of sibling rivalry, generational trauma, race, and class by Suzan-Lori Parks that reconfirms the greatness of play and playwright alike. An alternately poignant and funny musical about a teenager with a rare genetic disorder by South Boston native David Lindsay-Abaire, teaming up with the brilliant composer Jeanine Tesori.
A riotous musical adaptation of one of the best film comedies ever made that updates the material while doing the original justice. A drama about the collaboration between a pair of boundary-pushing artists, Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
These Broadway productions — three plays and three musicals — may differ in content and form, but they’re each shaped by an outsider perspective and/or inclusive casting. Each of them makes room for the experiences and viewpoints of those who don’t conform to prevailing norms or traditional expectations.
‘Ohio State Murders’
Unimaginable pain is at the heart of this harrowing early-1990s drama by the legendary Adrienne Kennedy. She caught the attention of the theater world in 1964, winning an Obie Award for “Funnyhouse of a Negro,” and is now finally, at 91, making her long-overdue Broadway debut.
Under the direction of Kenny Leon at the newly renamed James Earl Jones Theatre, McDonald stars as Suzanne Alexander, a writer who has been invited to return to her alma mater as a guest speaker, with a focus on the “violent imagery" in her work.
In a story that emerges in fragments, McDonald recounts and reenacts Suzanne’s experiences as a Black college student trying to navigate the many manifestations of racism on an overwhelmingly white Ohio State campus in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
College-age Suzanne’s mind is afire with a love of literature, but Black students are not allowed to major in English. “It was thought that we were not able to master the program," says Suzanne evenly. However, a white English professor, played by Boston College graduate Bryce Pinkham, is impressed by her talent. Suzanne is flattered by his interest. She becomes pregnant and delivers twins. After that, mind-bending tragedy is not long in coming.
With her uncanny gift for expressing emotion with a single twitch of a facial muscle or the slightest tremor of her voice, McDonald delivers a performance of transfixing intensity. She’s equally believable, and compelling, as the middle-aged Suzanne, looking back, and the college-age Suzanne as she battles to not be shattered beyond repair — to not, in effect, succumb to a murder of the spirit.
Alas, McDonald’s star power was not enough to avoid a struggle at the box office for “Ohio State Murders.” Originally scheduled to run until Feb. 12, it’s now slated to close Sunday. McDonald’s performance will live in the memory of anyone who sees it.
“Watch me now" is a constant refrain in this explosive two-hander. If you’re in the audience, you’re only too happy to comply. I’m confident I will never see a better-acted “Topdog/Underdog."
Directed, like “Ohio State Murders," by Kenny Leon, this revival stars Corey Hawkins and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as brothers Lincoln and Booth, names given to them by their father as a kind of perverse joke.
Leon and his two outstanding actors steadily turn up the heat, adding even more gut-punch power to a play that, two decades ago, made Parks the first Black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Lincoln and Booth are locked in a contest of wills and attempts at one-upmanship. But they are both emotionally unmoored, both haunted by the memory of being deserted by their parents when they were kids. First their mother left, and then, two years later, their father.
Lincoln works as a Lincoln impersonator in a shooting gallery, stovepipe hat, fake beard, whiteface and all. Customers pay money to “shoot" him. Why would he take such a job? While “Topdog/Underdog" unfolds entirely within the claustrophobic confines of Booth’s tiny apartment, Parks clearly wants us to think about the limited opportunities for Black men in the world beyond that apartment.
Booth, the younger brother, is determined to become a three-card monte hustler like his brother used to be — he even talks of changing his name to “Three Card” — but he can’t match Lincoln’s hand-is-quicker-than-the-eye level of skill. Smitten with a woman named Grace (unseen) who has lost interest in him, Booth thinks only in the most grandiose terms of what his life could be; none of his dreams seem likely to materialize, but he clings to them fiercely, and tragically.
The deck is stacked against both brothers. One way or another, Lincoln and Booth can’t escape history.
What if Juliet didn’t kill herself at the end of “Romeo and Juliet” by plunging Romeo’s dagger into her breast?
What if, instead, Shakespeare’s neglected wife, Anne Hathaway (Betsy Wolfe) seized the quill from her egotistical playwright hubby (Stark Sands) and gave his play a feminist rewrite, fashioning not an ending but a new beginning for young Juliet (Lorna Courtney), one in which Juliet decides instead to live — nay, to live it up — by going to Paris on a quest for carefree adventure?
What if Juliet’s best friend, May, were nonbinary, and played by a trans nonbinary actor (Justin David Sullivan), who got their own fully developed romantic story line?
And what if Juliet’s quest for independence was woven into a jukebox musical, melded with the sound of more than two dozen pop tunes that include “I Want It That Way,” “Baby One More Time,” “Since U Been Gone,” “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” “Oops! . . . I Did It Again,” “I Kissed a Girl,” “It’s My Life,” and more, all performed by a cast that is bursting with energy?
Then you would have the delightful confection that is “& Juliet.” Directed by Luke Sheppard, “& Juliet” connects song to story about as subtly as “Mamma Mia!” — and is about as hard to resist, too.
‘Some Like It Hot’
This frenetically enjoyable musical has a very different look from the 1959 Billy Wilder classic it’s based on, about two musicians running from the mob who pretend to be women so they can join an all-female band.
The Jack Lemmon role of Jerry, who dons a dress to pose as a woman named Daphne, is played by J. Harrison Ghee, a nonbinary Black actor. And the Marilyn Monroe role of Sugar, the glamorous lead singer of the band, is played by Adrianna Hicks, who is Black.
Ghee told The New York Times that “Some Like It Hot" provided “an opportunity for me to be pushed as an entertainer by playing Jerry and the opportunity to bring my own nonbinary identity onstage."
Mission accomplished. Ghee delivers a performance in the reconceived role that is a subtle blend of self-discovery, reclamation, and affirmation, captured in “Some Like It Hot” when the character sings: “Well, I have tried to love many ladies/Back when I sang in a much lower key/Now you could knock me over with a feather, ‘cause Joe/The lady that I’m lovin’ is me.”
Hicks is outstanding as Sugar, which will come as no surprise to Boston-area theatergoers who saw her play Celie in 2017 at the Shubert Theatre in the touring production of “The Color Purple” and her 2019 turn as Catherine of Aragon in “Six” at the American Repertory Theater. Christian Borle brings his usual expert comic timing as Joe/Josephine in “Some Like It Hot,” which is directed by Casey Nicholaw, with a score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and a book by Matthew López and Amber Ruffin.
“What is a collaboration, anyways?" Andy Warhol asks his agent at one point in this bio-drama at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
Answer: a complicated, friction-filled partnership, at least when the egos involved are as big and the personalities as quirky as those of Warhol (Paul Bettany) and Jean-Michel Basquiat (Jeremy Pope).
Directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah and written by Anthony McCarten, “The Collaboration" is set in the mid-1980s, when Warhol and Basquiat worked together to create a series of paintings. As depicted in “The Collaboration," both artists were leery about the project at first, with Warhol skeptical of the entire enterprise and Basquiat viewing the older artist as a corporate sellout.
“He’s old hat," Basquiat tells his agent, who is also Warhol’s agent. “I’m already better than Andy. I don’t need this."
“The Collaboration” is one of those productions where the performances are stronger than the play. McCarten, who wrote the screenplay for “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the book for “A Beautiful Noise,” the Neil Diamond musical that premiered at Boston’s Emerson Colonial Theatre last year before moving to Broadway, largely skims the surface of the issues he raises.
Bettany (”A Very British Scandal,” “WandaVision”) gives Warhol a complex blend of arrogance and insecurity, while Pope’s Basquiat is every inch the young-man-in-a-hurry: thinking, talking, and moving at a speed that seems destined to end in a crash. Within a couple of years of their collaboration, both men would be dead: Warhol at 58 after gall bladder surgery, Basquiat at 27 of a drug overdose.
There’s a heart-piercing scene in this beguiling musical when New Jersey high-schooler Kimberly (Victoria Clark) listens, with a wistful half-smile, as her classmates enthusiastically describe their hopes, dreams, and plans for the future.
Kimberly doesn’t have a future, at least not much of one. She suffers from a progeria-like genetic disorder in which she ages physically four times faster than normal. A teenager in an embroidered jumper who has the face and body of an elderly woman, Kimberly is turning 16 — and she is all too aware of that milestone’s ramifications in terms of her life expectancy.
Yet the miracle of “Kimberly Akimbo,” and of Clark’s wonderful performance, is how often you smile while watching it.
There’s an unsinkable quality to Kimberly; she insists on, and fights for, her right to be happy, even as she copes with loneliness and a bonkers family.
Her father, Buddy (Steven Boyer), is an alcoholic and a general screw-up. Her very pregnant mother, Pattie (Alli Mauzey), is given to histrionics and hypochondria. Then there’s her scam-artist aunt, Debra (the hilarious Bonnie Milligan), who enlists Kimberly and her friends into a check fraud scheme.
Book writer/lyricist Lindsay-Abaire adapted “Kimberly Akimbo” from his play. He and composer Tesori previously collaborated on “Shrek the Musical.’’ Even in something as goofy as that show, which ran on Broadway 2008-2010, their bone-deep empathy for outsiders was evident.
In “Kimberly Akimbo," you feel like cheering when Kimberly finds her soulmate in the sweetly dorky, anagram-obsessed, tuba-playing Seth (Justin Cooley). However long or short their time together will be, Kimberly’s ability to snatch joy from the jaws of sadness is inspiring.
OHIO STATE MURDERS
Through Jan. 15. At James Earl Jones Theatre, 138 W. 48th St., New York. ohiostatemurdersbroadway.com/
At Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 W. 43rd St., New York. andjulietbroadway.com/
SOME LIKE IT HOT
At Shubert Theatre, 225 W. 44th St., New York. somelikeithotmusical.com/
At Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St., New York. kimberlyakimbothemusical.com/
Through Jan. 15. At John Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St., New York. topdogunderdog.com/
Through Feb. 5. At Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., New York. manhattantheatreclub.com